The series in which I have a glass of wine or two, and revisit (or try for the first time) the various entertainment available on Disney+, my new favorite purveyor of Nostalgia. Today’s outing: Return to Oz
When I was scrolling through the movies on Disney+ and ran across the title Return to Oz, I let out a little scream of joy. I have vague memories of this movie…I remember a talking chicken, some annoying dudes with wheels and a pretty lady body that switches a bunch of pretty lady heads. Also, the meanest witch from classic 1990’s teen move The Craft plays Dorothy. I mean, what’s not to love. So, let us revisit this classic tale that has nothing to do with the original 1939 classic, shall we?
Holy shit, this starts out dark. I’ve read both of the books this is based on, and I have to say…this is a pretty interesting departure. In the book, Dorothy is traveling to Australia with Uncle Henry so he can get some well-deserved rest. In the movie, Henry and Em have decided that Dorothy ain’t right with all her stories of Oz and PTSD insomnia and are sending her to get shock treatments at some shady, turn-of-the-century mental asylum. I mean, it’s all a bit more realistic to what I assume Kansas farm life was like, and Em and Henry seem more like the proper ages for aunt and uncle. Also, Uncle Henry is kind of a dick, implying that Dorothy lives off their charity. I guess that’s why he’s cool with sending her to a mental asylum. Oh, I remember blonde mirror chick! Pretty sure she’s Ozma of Oz. She’s here from mirror country to lay down to Dorothy that the crooked doctor is straight-up keeping “failed experiments” in the basement and this is the horrible groaning that permeates the building. Damn, Disney! This is like an Ed Wood movie!
Nurse Rachet is pissed! She seems to take it as a personal affront that Dorothy doesn’t feel like being electrocuted and is chasing her all over the creepy-ass grounds. Auntie Em, you credulous turn-of-the-century matron…what about this Victorian monster of an asylum screamed “good place to leave your small niece?” Nurse Rachet chases Dorothy to a swollen, racing river and Dorothy decides that Watery Grave > Electrocution (wise girl) and dives on in. Also, her chicken is here for some reason!
Night falls and now Dorothy and her chicken Billina are floating in an ocean now. Magic’s afoot! (Side note: I actually remember from the book that Billina is actually named “Bill” because nobody knew she was a lady chicken when she was a chick. Dorothy insists that this is improper, so she dubs her Billina. Chicken should have stayed Bill. I feel this would have been much more amusing.)
Oh my God, the lunch pail trees! I am watching this with Jeff and I told him excitedly “I totally remember being enamored of the lunch pail trees and wishing that they existed in real life!” His response: “You would.” Jeff knows me and my love of food all too well. Dorothy plucks herself a lunch pail tree and gets her ham sandwich on. I see you, Dorothy.
Uh oh…the rocks are spying! I had totally forgotten about the completely 100% for real scary Claymation rocks! Little confession time: Claymation terrifies the hell out of me. I remember spending one Christmas hiding behind the rocking chair because my dad was watching The California Raisins Christmas Special and I couldn’t handle the horror. I genuinely do not like these Claymation rocks as a 40-year-old woman. Back to hell with you, Devils!
Wheelers show up and they are not so much scary as annoying. Their mode of transportation does look fun, however.
Ohhhhh, Tik Tok! My chubby, steam-punk mechanical man! The thing getting me most about this movie is how everyone completely forgets to wind him all the time. I mean, I guess Dorothy’s a kid but still. Tik Tok, our adorable side-kick kicks Wheeler ass but ends up getting winding down while standing in the Princess Mombi waiting room. (They definitely take some liberties with the books here, but I’m still enjoying the hell out of it.) Mombi starts out as a lazy-ass blonde lady, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to put on an angry head…oop! There she goes. She switches lazy-ass blonde with angry-ass brunette who decides that Dorothy’s prepubescent face will make a perfectly lovely head after a few years, so she locks Dorothy up. Now we play the waiting game. Dorothy declines to be Mombi’s head, even though it would grant her unlimited access to those sweet sweet lunch pail trees. Dorothy girl, play the long game. LUNCH PAILS.
Dorothy ends up locked up with Jack the Pumpkin head, a wooden man with mommy issues. They manage to steal Mombi’s magic powder and make a flying couch moose to get them the hell out of there. Original Mombi’s head wakes up and chases them, and is of course Nurse Rachet. She’s also the evil queen from Willow. This actress has an amazing Evil Queen vibe. I wonder if she ever uses it in real life…like if somebody cuts in line at the grocery store or something.
Flying Couch Moose Head manages to fly Dorothy, Tik-Tok, and Jack and Billina to the mountains whereupon he falls apart and crashes. Just in time, though because they’re exactly where they need to be: The Gnome King’s kingdom. Apparently this dude (Who is totally the corrupt doctor from the asylum) took over Oz and turned everyone into stone or fun ornaments because they stole his emeralds. Fair enough. He and his cronies ooze about, looking terrifying. Scarecrow is suddenly there and gone for some reason.
The Gnome King lays down that the Scarecrow is now a fancy ornament in his big-ass formal living room. If any of their crew can guess which he is in three guesses, they go free. If they guess wrong, they themselves become fancy ornaments. This deal is…not such a good deal. But there’re snacks! Gnome King, ever the good host offers them some limestone pie and melted silver. Dorothy wolfs that shit down for some reason, probably because it’s been like, 2 days since her delicious lunch pail.
So, guesses go wrong and Queen Mombi for some reason is hot-footing it to the King to warn him (way to go Mombi, you’re a little late and I don’t know why you think he’s going to thank you for that.) Gnome King becomes less rocky and more Doctor-y after every wrong guesser. I guess he’s sucking their life force or something? Mombi shows up and for her reward gets clapped into a cage. Sucker. I would have stayed in my big-ass castle with my sexy lady heads and lived off my lunch pail trees. Screw the King!
Tik-Tok plays dead so Dorothy has to go in and wind him and he tells her to watch his final guess to see what he turns into. It doesn’t actually work, but shows some great initiative. That dude’s thinking must be wound tight. Anyway, Dorothy ends up randomly guessing right (totally different from the book) and there’s the Scarecrow! All of their friends are green for Oz. They start saving everybody and Gnome King is like, “Hey! I wouldn’t have played if I thought you guys would win! I’m going home!” He gets all angry and fire-y and goes to eat everybody. Then the real hero, Billina, lays an egg in his mouth which for magic reasons is really poisonous to rocks or gnomes or whatever. They all collapse in a horror show of Claymation nightmares.
Everyone gets super spruced up and ends up having a procession in the Emerald City, in which Ozma is now the ruling queen after being pulled out of Mirror Land by Dorothy. (Fun fact, Ozma was so British they dubbed her voice. Thanks, IMDB!). Dorothy loves on everyone really quickly (which is good, because the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion are very obviously cheap suits). Once home, she learns that the asylum burned down and the doctor burned alive inside. Heartwarming! Nurse Rachet is pulled away in a jail-buggy.
Dorothy is in her bedroom, and sees Ozma in her mirror. She screams for Auntie Em to come look, because apparently she is an idiot who learned nothing. Ozma gives her a look like, “Bitch, snitches get stitches! Shut your gob!” And Dorothy is like “Oh yeah! I probably shouldn’t talk about this again because it’s still 1899 and although one asylum burned down, there are many more still in existence and my dirt-farming aunt and uncle apparently have no problem locking my ass up.” Ozma nods. She knows.
Guys, this was a nine out of ten glass outing. Would definitely watch this surrealist nightmare again. Dark and fun, the acting is fantastic and at times campy, the Claymation is from hell itself. Do yourself a favor and stream this with your kids.